At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Niagara Falls

4 Revelations from my Family Vacation to Niagara Falls

If you’re doing a little research about vacationing to Niagara Falls, I’ve got a few tips to share that should improve your experience…

My family and I have just returned from a great vacation to Niagara Falls. Yes, we stayed on the Canadian side, as it was clearly nicer. That said, we did spend one day on the U.S. side, and it was well worth it… The state park surrounding the American Falls is absolutely beautiful, and the “Cave of the Winds” experience where you walk right up to the base of a section of the Bridal Veil Falls was my favorite from the whole trip.

Warning: you will get soaked if you attempt to walk into the section of the wooden walkway called the “Hurricane Deck”… so dress accordingly. (It’s a big clue when they give everyone souvenir sandals and a plastic rain poncho to wear.)

If you’re planning your own trip, here are four other learnings from my experience…

Canadian Money
The way I understand it, the going wisdom when you use your American credit card is to try to pay in U.S. dollars as opposed Canadian dollars. That’s supposed to end up costing you less in conversion fees. But I found that most of the mobile credit card terminals I came across slapped a 5% tax on top of my purchase if I selected the U.S. dollars option. So I ended up just charging in Canadian dollars.

Tourism Tax
Speaking of taxes, did you know that businesses in Niagara Falls, Ontario have the choice to add an optional “Tourism Tax” to your purchase? And I don’t mean optional as in some businesses do it and others don’t (which is true).

I mean… you as the consumer have the option to pay it… or not. That’s right, you don’t have to pay the Tourism Tax. You just have to politely say you’d like to decline paying it. And then they take it off your bill.
(We got this tip from a waitress at a restaurant. Thank you!)

It’s actually an optional tourism fee that’s generally 3% of your bill, although it can be much more, and it looks like just another tax.

It’s not a tax. So, buyer beware.

Taking Photos with All that Water
You might expect I took a ‘few’ pictures along the way. And let me tell you, it wasn’t difficult to take a magnificent photo by just pointing my camera in the right direction. That said, it was sometimes hard to capture exactly what I wanted.


In three words… all that water.

If you’re going to ride on the Maid of the Mist or the Canadian Hornblower boat, it’s about all that water… up close and spraying in your face and onto your camera.

Most of our best Niagara Falls moments were connected to the visceral experience of the power of Niagara Falls and the spray from all that water.

If you want to capture those moments with a photo, you’re going to need a waterproof camera. Using a newer iPhone? No problem. They’re waterproof.

But let me tell you, the touch screen doesn’t work so well when it’s dripping wet. And you really need to keep water droplets off the lens. Otherwise, your photos will look like your phone was covered in Vaseline. But quickly wiping off a tiny smartphone lens is hard to do when your fingers are all wet.

The only option I had was to find the driest piece of clothing I was wearing and then rub off the lens on the precious cotton fibers.

The Limitations of your Smartphone
Ultimately, I think you should prepare for the need to take more action photos vs. scenic pictures. It’s easy to take a shot of Niagara Falls. It’s much harder to get the shot of your family experiencing Niagara Falls.

That said, I also had my GoPro with me, and that was a great choice. I don’t know about you, but as ‘bulletproof’ and waterproof as smartphones have become, they can still break if you drop them (even with a protective case).

And the risk of being so up-and-close to Niagara Falls is there’s no net… for either you or your smartphone. I wonder how many smartphones have been dropped by careless tourists and taken the infamous plunge.

I’ve happily used my GoPro with the expectation that one day, it could get swept away in one of our family adventures. As sad a moment as that will be, I’ll take solace that it wasn’t my iPhone.

Don’t Give Up
This all leads to my conclusion that to capture your experience as opposed to a few simple family selfies with Niagara Falls in the background… you’ll need to take lots of shots. Many will fall short… and if you’re lucky, you’ll capture a few gems.

That’s what I did, and I wasn’t entirely disappointed…

Keep it Real
It was ironic that all of the tourist activities include an almost mandatory green screen “say-cheese!” photo opportunity while you wait on line. And when you’re done, they’ve magically got your family digitally keyed into a beautiful shot of Niagara Falls… that you can buy.

While you might consider this option and not have to worry about risking your own gear to get a similar shot, you need to know that it’s not at all the same!

Smiling in front of a green wall does not at all approximate your truly disheveled, drenched and delighted look when experiencing the real moment.

Hold on tight to your camera, bring a dry cloth for the lens and go capture your moment!

Enjoy your adventure to Niagara Falls!

Five Tips to Not Lose Your Tech While Traveling

You don’t have to stash your personal tech in a barrel at Niagara Falls to risk losing it while traveling. If you’re not careful, there’s plenty of opportunity to part with your gadgets along the way.

You don’t have to stash your personal tech in a barrel at Niagara Falls to risk losing it while traveling. If you’re not careful, there’s plenty of opportunity to part with your gadgets along the way.

I was in Buffalo last week on a work-related video project.
(Yes, it was snowing in Buffalo.)

On the last day, we drove to Niagara Falls to get some beauty shots.
I must say the American Falls looked especially beautiful half frozen.
(The Horseshoe Falls was mostly obscured in fog.)

We also spent some time in town doing some additional videotaping.
The frozen urban environment didn’t feel quite as quaint with steady snowfall and a stiff wind confronting us.

So between shots, we ducked inside a building to warm up while we planned our next move.

And we broke a cardinal video production rule.
We left a piece of our gear outside unattended.

No, it wasn’t anything really expensive, like the camera.

It was a lowly wooden Apple Box.
No, not an apple fruit box… though it does look like one.
(And no, it’s not some Apple computer packaging either!)

It’s simply a sturdy wooden box.
More like a little platform, it’s used to position someone or something up a few inches.
(A couple inches can make all the difference when you’re looking to tweak a shot!)

Our inside huddle lasted only four minutes.
But when we emerged, the Apple Box was gone.


We looked at each other uneasily, as we were also guilty of breaking a really basic rule our mothers had taught us decades earlier.

Then, an innocent bystander walked up and said he had seen the perp pick up the clipped item.

And he pointed in the direction the thief was walking.
He also mentioned it looked like the guy was part of group of five or so.

By this point, they were a few blocks away, just out of my visual range.

We each considered the situation.
To me, it was clear running after our bandit wasn’t the right move.
It seemed risky. We could run into a confrontation with a superior force.

The look on other faces suggested a similar conclusion.

But our consensus was not unanimous.

One bold soul jumped to action.
Declaring the rest of us wimps, our hero launched a rescue mission.
Our fasted vehicle powered up, and it roared off in hot pursuit.

The rest of us stared for a moment, flecks of snow falling on our gaping jaws.

I eventually jumped in my car and brought up the rear.
By the time I arrived, the incursion was over.

The Apple Box had been rescued.

The opposition had not been five muscular men.
It was just one older gentleman, who had fallen on hard times and innocently picked up an item he thought had been abandoned.

It was just a matter of confronting the truth of the moment.
The retrieval ended up being an easy one.

Boy, did I have egg on my face.
And I didn’t hear the end of it for the rest of the trip!

Odds Are Some of Your Tech Won’t Make It Back
Let’s face it. Losing your gear on the road is surprisingly easy to do.
You may not be dumb enough to leave it on the street while you talk about where to go for lunch.
But there are plenty of ways to inadvertently part with your expensive gadgets and their accessories.

  • Secondary Smartphone
    Many of us are forced to juggle more than one smartphone for work and home.
    If that’s the case, you may not be paying as much attention to the secondary unit while on a trip.
    (Like if you’re on vacation and not looking at your work BlackBerry very often)
    That scenario can easily lead you to miss the unfortunate fact your smartphone has suddenly gone MIA.
  • Chargers and Power Cables
    How many times have you left behind your smartphone charger or laptop power cable plugged into the outlet under the desk in your hotel room?
  • Lens Cap
    And if your DSLR’s lens cap is not tethered to your camera’s lens, it’s constantly pulling a Houdini, right?

You Won’t Lose It If You Don’t Have It
My simple advice is just don’t take any tech you can do without.

Much like over packing clothing for a trip, we also have a tendency to travel with too many gadgets.

Don’t take that laptop if a tablet will do.
Don’t take the tablet if your smartphone can handle the job.

Sure, many hotel rooms are now equipped with mini safes.
And laptops are small enough these days to jam into these tiny vaults.

But then you’ve got to remember to clear out the safe before you leave.
(And no matter what, isn’t it always a rush?)

Maybe you won’t forget the laptop, but what’s hidden behind it might get missed with a hurried exit plan.

Don’t let your view freeze up trying to keep track of your tech while on the road!

Don’t let your view freeze up trying to keep track of your tech while on the road!

Five Ways to Hold onto Your Tech on the Road
But if you absolutely must bring it, here are five tips to help you increase the odds you’ll come home with all your precious tech gear and accessories-

1.  Protect Your Smartphone like ‘Renegade’ or ‘Trailblazer’
The Secret Service has code names for its presidents.
(Renegade for Obama and Trailblazer for George W)

Yes, you can lockdown your smartphone with a code.

Yes, you can track it.
(Up to a point)

Yes, you can remotely wipe the memory.
(The Secret Service can’t do that yet. Right?)

Yes, you can even change all your passwords just to be totally safe.

But you really shouldn’t need to act like a Secret Service agent to protect your smartphone.

I know this is obvious, but I say treat your smartphone like your wallet.
People do lose their wallets, but usually you can devote enough brainpower to maintaining track of it, right?

Bad things happen, but a little vigilance can go a long way to keep your smartphone at your side.

Enough said.

2. Use the Right Carry-On Bag
Keep your tech with you at all times.
Assume an 800-pound gorilla will be jumping on your stowed luggage.

So bring a carry-on bag with distinct compartments and keep each piece of tech in its designated position. Then take a moment to memorize where everything belongs.
That way, you’ll be able to quickly scan if all your digital tools are in their rightful place.

3.  Have Power in a Pinch
It’s always nice to bring a little backup power in your bag, while you’re going about your day. That way, you don’t have to worry about where you’ll be juicing your smartphone next.

More importantly, that also means you’re not putting any of your kit and kaboodle at risk of being left behind, while your charging up behind enemy lines.

These days you can store a power stick that’s not much larger than a pack of gum.

4.  Keep Your Pockets Light at Security
When going through airport security, it’s always such a fire drill to get everything back on your body before rushing to the gate.

Reposition as much digital paraphernalia as you can into your carry-on bag.

5.  Watch Your Laptop Like a Hawk After the X-ray Machine
I’m not talking so much about someone stealing your laptop from its bin while you’re putting your shoes back on. I’m referring to simply protecting it from being harmed.

During my Buffalo trip, I watched in horror as a bin holding a laptop rolled out of the X-ray machine conveyer belt. It got squeezed by a bin jam ahead of it, and then it veered off the rollers, dumping the laptop onto the cold, unforgiving cement surface below.

No, the poor laptop didn’t bust into multiple pieces,
but I’m not so sure how solid its guts were after that kind of spill.

Try to position your laptop bin so it comes out of the X-ray machine soon after you’ve crossed passed through your own X-ray body scan experience.

That way you’ll be close by to rescue your laptop if a bin jam becomes imminent.

Bonus Tip: ID Your Gear
Sometimes, no matter what you do, fate still intervenes.
So when you end up losing a gadget like your tablet or eBook-reader on a plane, in your hotel room, or after a solo lunch at a restaurant… what do you do then?

Well, you’d better leave a trail for someone to find you.
(Like simply taping a business card inside your new iPad case)

If your gear is in lockdown mode, there’s no way for anyone to know it’s yours.
Sure they can do some sleuthing based on your reserved plane seat or hotel room record, but would you want to leave your gadget’s future in the hands of an Inspector Clouseau?

Get That Tech Back Yourself!
And if all else fails, and you’ve accidentally just left some tech behind, make sure you can sprint four hundred yards or have access to some really fast wheels.

It’s been known to work!

%d bloggers like this: